It’s a traditional back street pub that’s got bags of character.
Now The Nell Gwynne, in Jessie Road, Southsea – famous for its iconic ‘witch’s hat’ tower – has been given a new lease of life.
New landlord Steve Lant has ploughed a lot of time and effort into making changes.
And soon after taking over, Steve, 36, realised things wouldn’t be easy. He had to keep the place closed for three months while essential work was done.
With the help of his dad Graham Lant and eight local builders, he refurbished the furniture, bar and toilets, replastered the walls, built a new roof and replaced the pink and green decor with Pompey colours.
The walls inside the kitchen and toilets were also replaced and a new pool table and dart board was put in.
And it’s good news for beer lovers – because 10 real ale and cider pumps were installed, as well as Ted’s Cider Bar behind the main bar containing 20 boxed ciders.
The cider bar was named after a local from The Old House at Home, in Locksway Road, Milton, who happily gave up his time for free.
The pub finally reopened on May 20, and Steve says he is delighted about the way things have come together.
Steve, who is also the landlord of The Old House at Home, forked out £50,000 of his own money on the project.
He hopes to build on the success he’s already enjoyed at his other pub.
He says: ‘The response has been unbelievable.
‘One of the biggest things we did here was cleaning.
‘We originally wanted to open in a month.
‘But when I first came in here, from a customer’s point of view, I knew it was going to take a lot longer to fix things. It didn’t worry me how big a project it was or how much investment was needed.
‘It was just a case of getting on with it.
‘Within a month we had done a lot of refurbishment and got things like the seats recovered.
‘But then the wall fell down in the ladies’ toilets.’
Speaking about why he wanted to breathe new life into the premises, Steve says: ‘At the end of the day, pubs are shutting down, at a rate of about 26 a week.
‘Someone has got to open them and keep them going, and bring back traditional backstreet boozers which draw in the community.
‘Wetherspoon pubs are great because you can go to one for cheap food and drink.
‘But they aren’t local pubs. They don’t have pool or darts teams. You go to places like that on different days of the week and there’s always different staff.
‘In a local pub, it’s the same staff dealing with the customers.’
Steve bought The Nell Gwynne under his new company Lant Taverns, which runs the lease on The Old House at Home.
Steve says: ‘The Old House at Home was voted cider pub of the year by the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale.
‘But even that pub has limitations because it’s a pub that’s tied to Enterprise Inns.
‘The Nell Gwynne is a free-house, which gives us that much more flexibility.
‘We have the capability to expand and offer our customers up to 50 or 60 types of real cider. Ones that are further afield.
‘We want to be a point of difference. Ninety per cent of the pubs in this area are owned by Enterprise Inns.’
He takes his job seriously, and makes sure all of his staff have the same attitude and wear uniform in the form of black polo shirts showing pictures of both pubs.
He supports HTP Training’s apprenticeship scheme and eight of his bar staff at The Nell Gwynne are apprentices working towards an NVQ in Licensed Hospitality.
Apprentice Amy Chuter, 19, works at The Nell Gwynne once a week and helps out Steve at his other pub the rest of the week.
‘It’s completely different here now,’ she says.
‘The team have worked so hard. There’s no way I could have done what they have.
‘The work has been constant.
‘I want to follow a career in hospitality.
‘I love the social side of my job. I like it when it’s busy and something is always going on.’
Graham, 58, who ran Accident Repair Centre, in West Street, Havant, for 33 years before retiring, says: ‘We have tried to keep the traditional elements of the pub but at the same time bring it more up to date.
‘We’ve kept the old bar and tables and wooden flooring.
‘It’s certainly kept me busy.’
Steve’s got big plans for the pub, and hopes it will take off in the next 12 months.
‘Twelve months from here I would like to see The Nell Gwynne in the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide. I want to hold several charity events and a beer festival and work towards winning an award for the ciders here. From a business point of view, real ale and cider is the biggest growth market in the industry. It makes sense to sell them.’
Hard-working Steve Lant isn’t content with running just two pubs.
He’s got his eyes set on another one – The Alma Arms, in Highland Road, Eastney.
The pub went on the market after former landlord Barry Smith left.
Steve sees huge potential in the pub and wants to take advantage of its large function room.
He’s currently thrashing out a deal which would see him take on the lease of the pub on behalf of its owners Enterprise Inns.
It’s also got its own cinema licence.
‘The function room is a massive asset,’ Steve said.
‘It can hold up to 140 people and we could build on the success of the live music already held at The Old House at Home.
‘We would also consider looking into doing other things, like events with comedians and things with a multi-cultural theme.
‘The function room also has a cinema licence and that’s something we could make use of.’
The pub is currently being redecorated and having new carpets and furniture installed.
Steve hopes to set up six real ale and cider hand pumps.
‘There is a lot of potential there,’ he says.
‘The biggest thing will be to let everyone know that everyone is welcome.
‘It would be a pub and a function room for the whole community.’
THE ORIGINAL NELL GWYNNE
Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwynne (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II.
Called ‘pretty, witty Nell’ by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of restoration England and has come to be considered a folk heroine.
The pub was constructed in 1892 for former Portsea-based Brickwoods Brewery and designed by A H Bone.
It features a distinctive ‘witch’s hat’ tower.
Demolished pubs The Mystery, in Warwick Crescent, Southsea, and The Royal Naval Arms, in Queen Street, had a tower and the only pubs with one are The Fawcett Inn, in Fawcett Road, Southsea, and The Florist, in Fratton Road, Fratton.